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May 22, 2019

Ex-Armenia president rejects 'coup' charges ahead of trial

Ex-Armenia president rejects 'coup' charges ahead of trial
'Armenian riot police are seen patrolling Yerevan in March 2008 after a night of violent clashes with supporters of the defeated opposition candidate' - By: AFP KAREN MINASYAN

Armenia's jailed former president goes on trial Monday over what prosecutors describe as a coup that led to bloody protests but he insists is a politically motivated case.

Robert Kocharyan led the ex-Soviet nation for a decade up to 2008 when his hand-picked ally Serzh Sarkisian was elected.

Kocharyan is accused of tipping those presidential polls in Sarkisian's favour and faces charges of "overthrowing the constitutional order".

The 64-year-old, however, told AFP the case was brought against him because of a new leadership that pushed out his successor in a popular uprising last year.

"What is happening to me is nothing less than lawlessness," he told AFP from prison in written comments sent via representatives.

"The current Armenian political authorities have declared me guilty, and the judicial system now serves this political master."

The former head of state faces up to 15 years behind bars if convicted.

After the 2008 election, tensions erupted into violent clashes between riot police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate, who denounced the vote as fraudulent.

Eight protesters and two officers were killed.

Sarkisian led the South Caucasus nation until April last year when he was forced to resign because of mass protests against his rule, spearheaded by current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

In 2009, Pashinyan was arrested for organising the 2008 post-electoral protests and sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released as part of an amnesty in 2011.

Kocharyan was arrested in July last year, then briefly released but re-arrested again in December and has since then remained in pre-trial detention.

"I was a non-partisan president who acted without favour or prejudice," Kocharyan told AFP.

- Anti-corruption crackdown -

Kocharyan claimed that Armenia's current authorities "are not especially enthusiastic to find out" who bears the responsibility for the deaths for "fear of revealing extremely undesirable facts for the current government."

"They have focused instead all their efforts on the fabrication of politically motivated charges against me."

He said Pashinyan "has a direct motivation to rewrite history in order to whitewash himself and shift responsibility for the events of 2008 to others."

Pashinyan launched a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown on former elites when he came to power last May.

Critics accuse pro-Russian politician Kocharyan of amassing an immense fortune through corruption, an allegation he denies.

In February, prosecutors charged Kocharyan's son with tax evasion and money laundering using companies owned by the Kocharyan family.

Kocharyan's presidency saw one of the bloodiest events in Armenia's post-Soviet political history -- a terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament in 1999.

Opposition parties have accused Kocharyan of organising the attack in which five gunmen killed his political foes, prime minister Vazgen Sargsyan and parliament speaker Karen Demirchyan, among others.

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